© Vincent Maher 2017, Ryerson University
In Commando Comics No.21 ‘Doc Stearne’, written by Fred Kelly (44-50), its story introduces somes stakes that revolves around a select group of characters coming into conflicts with the antagonists, the Imperial Japanese Army, located in Northern Canada. The selected story arc of show how representations assigns the role of both the protagonists and antagonists. What then emerges are the constructions of what those representations show with regards to each character, which is why I would like to delve into how women are shown enhances the construction of heroism. The focus on seeing what is provided within the comic arc would be to take a look at the interactions of the characters in the comic, and take a look as to how they are positioned and drawn. The first step in delving into the representations featured in the story, ‘Doc Stearne’, there are representations that are solely focused on specific groups that limit itself with the division of how gender assigns the roles of the all the characters that exist within this respective story. Three major ones that can be identified within the story are the heroes, villains, and the captive damsel in distress. Each of these three play a role in the story that allows the plot to advance from beginning to end, since each side would continue to act upon their own goals in order for that story’s completion to be certain. Within the content provided in the slides of the comic’s pages, the characters all play their respective roles given by the artists for themes to emerge. Showcasing the Japanese in the comic depiction of a World War II scenario, alongside main protagonists delves into the notion of the comic leaning towards how the theme of heroism is enhanced. That focus on heroism seems to have been centered on the main protagonists in the story, the explorers, with respects to their own goals. “World War II had drastically changed the position of race in comics and, by implication, in America’s popular imagination.” (Lenthall 18.)
For the summarization of the storyline that takes place within ‘Doc Stearne’, it begins and it sets the stage with the introduction of the protagonists and the antagonists. The antagonists, the Japanese, show themselves to set themselves against the main protagonists, by capturing one of the protagonists’ friends. The explorers are now setting themselves in their own goals by chasing after the Japanese that have taken their friend, Gloria. So as that short story begins to move and events continue to unfold, it’s a direct march for the explorers for them to infiltrate the Japanese hideout to save Gloria. To note, Gloria is the only existing female character that exists within the comic, but both the explorers and the Japanese are shown to have only consisted of male characters. There are further questions that are to be taken into account, to ask possibly on how significant these representations are with how the comic has been drawn. To ask these questions would mean to ponder further on why characters are placed in their respective roles, and why their respective roles have come together to interact with one another. ““Historian Bradford Wright has written, “Comic books are history.” As primary sources of popular culture, they have emerged from a specific context, reflecting the politics, prejudices’ and concerns of a particular historical moment. Comics have also shaped the outlook of America’s young people.” (Aiken 1).
Villains and Heroes
The explorers in the story are meant to be a placeholder in the comic’s presentation of to show what the stakes are for the characters. So one question is, how have these representations allowed the comic to display its features on what is villainized and what is praised as the heroic ones? And what other features besides the characters exist in the comic itself? So first things first, there comes the depictions of the drawings and depictions of the explorers. Since the explorers are pinning themselves willingly against the Japanese Kamikaze holdout, they have to be drawn a certain way since they are supposed to be a small band against an entire army that’s awaiting them. Throughout the story, the explorers are drawn as silhouettes, showing their movements as they are in constant motion, appearing rather tense and showing a bit of anger on their faces.
Since they are moving into a space which they aren’t welcome, they are forced to move into the Japanese hideout since they have had a deed that they had also considered unwelcoming, which came in the form of capturing the explorer’s companion, Gloria. So in return, they are retaliating with brute force, which the strategy that they use to retaliate via an explosion would result in the Japanese hideout going up in flames.
As for the Japanese soldiers that are featured within the comic themselves, they all appear to be tensed up as some of them are preparing to stand guard to defend their own territory. But in addition, since the story is taking place in Northern Canada, they would most likely be making attempts to maintain their location on foreign soil that they don’t belong in. One of the main incentives for them to stand their ground and guard their hideout is due to the fact that they have Gloria in their captivity. And as for Gloria herself, she is the only female character to be drawn into the comic’s story.
The story would not even begin to move anywhere, nor would it have revealed any of its threats, in this case the Japanese, without Gloria’s initial capture in the beginning of the comic’s story. So this is where ‘Doc Stearne’ and its characters are split up in terms of their roles. The explorers are supposed to represent the heroes fighting to free Gloria, while the Japanese are presented as the villains who are trying to keep Gloria from getting away, as she is shown restrained with her arms tied and lifted above her. This is where we can bring gender into question with regards to determining these roles.
How does Gender fit?
To bring gender into question with relation to this story is, how this comic has distinctively and uniquely presented its own story is how it has been fabricated to display its own messages and themes together in a compressed package. First off, the story is only six pages long, and the rescue mission is shown to be cut away into very quick segments of a single story. Potentially, this comic could have been written to an extent where the writers decide for them to write a fully fleshed out story, but they instead choose the faster path and give us six pages instead. The very interesting distinction that this comic has allowed us to get is how the main protagonists are more hidden behind silhouettes, and yet the antagonist are the ones that possess a face throughout. Also incorporating itself into the presentation of the comics is the results that comes with the ending results of the protagonists and antagonists, with regards to what’s left behind after the progression of the story continues. The actions that are taken by the characters, and who’s shown to have been affected, ultimately comes from the carnage of the environments around them. And keep in mind that these protagonists, though they were shown to display some competency towards wielding weapons, were only explorers and not a league of superheroes, or an elite band of soldiers.
They weren’t obligated to attack the Japanese, since they, as explorers, wouldn’t have wanted to have any sort of conflict with them.
But now that the Japanese have caused that disturbance to the explorers, it has now marked the two male groups against one another, while the one female character waits to see the end result of whose side she will stay with at the end of the story.
Historical relations and inspiration
So it is now time to connect the dots with the comic and bits and pieces of research to understand the significance of the comic’s featured imagery and its uniqueness of its own story telling format. This is to explore the significance of the previously listed images and drawings from this comic. Let’s start with the Japanese antagonists. Recall that in the story, they have been portrayed as the main driving force against the heroes, and they have been portrayed in a way that makes them look tense, standing guard in their respective positions as they were protecting their hideout. “This preoccupation mixed the unknowns of a complex language, an ‘alien’ race and an ‘exotic’ culture with the response from Europe and America to a rising Asian power and the re-ordering of the world of nineteenth-century empires.” (Everest-Philips 7). With this statement, it relates back to the narrative of the comic with Everest-Philips’ comments on the response of the Imperial Japanese Army and how they had been received previously during the time of the war. This could indicate towards the inspiration that Fred Kelly would have had to draw upon to create the material and drawings, depicting the Japanese in his comic and the reactions that the explorers had with their presence and actions. Furthermore, relating back to the protagonists of the story, the explorers, “Allegations of foreign subversion often play an important part for political leadership in promoting a sense of national unity, clarifying national values and providing a high moral sanction and sense of righteousness.” (Everest-Philips 21). The “righteousness”, the “clarification of national values”, “high moral sanction” connects towards the explorers while the “foreign subversion” is connected towards the drawings of the Japanese in the comic, as a presence being intrusive in attempts to dominate and assert their will and power. Despite the attempt in the comic to showcase the Japanese as dominant figures, they still remained to have been left for the heroes to show their own retaliation on sequences such as page 49 and 50 resulting in a giant fire as the aftermath of their response. Raiding the base to free Gloria paints them as the righteous characters who are fighting against the Japanese who are considered the antagonists of the story as a purging event for them to pay for their intrusion. This also ties in with the tragic event that had put an end to the Second World War: the Atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. “The most powerful symbols of Japan’s defeat were the atomic bombs. It was the sheer scale of the destructiveness of these bombs that anointed the Japanese for ever as victims of the war.” (Shimazu 10). “Due to the highly politicized nature of the atomic bombs as the symbol of extremities — both peace and war — memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become an internationalized memory of the war.” (10). Due to the fiery exit that the heroes are shown in the comic, as they are walking away with as the victors and with Gloria in their safety. The artists who have created and drawn this comic in 1946 would have had fresh bits and pieces with the fresh highlights of the end of the Second World War just occurring the previous year. In the crafting of this story, making those decisions to draw this story arc would have been influenced by that complete collapse of Japan’s Empire in 1945. The sense of victory and triumph could have been further celebrated with the releases of these comics, in a way, humiliating and tarnishing the image of the former empire, leaving the heroes to be shown as the righteous ones with freeing a character who could not fight for herself.
The chosen representations drawn and written specifically for this short story has been shown as a by-product with responses given an artistic treatment shown by comic artists wishing to capture a piece of the passing war. Depicting these characters in this related story has shown the types of characters that comic artists at the time would have been inspired to draw, and in the case of ‘Doc Stearne’, it has shown that inspiration being brought together into a tightly compressed package. In conclusion, ‘Doc Stearne’ in Commando Comics No. 21 has shown itself to reinforce those values of constructing the image of heroism through gender roles, while ultimately painting the image of a defeated enemy that has had their invasive tyranny come to an end thanks to the efforts of the depicted heroes fighting against that tyranny.
Aiken, Katherine G. “Superhero History: Using Comic Books to Teach U.S. History.” OAH Magazine of History vol. 24 no. 2, April 2010 pp 41-47.
Everest-Philips, Max. “The Pre-War Fear of Japanese Espionage: Its Impact and Legacy.” Journal of Contemporary History. vol.42 no.2, April 2007, pp. 243-265.
Kelly, Fred. “Doc Stearne” Commando Comics No. 21. January, 1946. pp. 44-50. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada. http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166550.pdf
Lenthall, Bruce. “Outside the Panel – Race in Americaʼs Popular Imagination: Comic Strips before and After World War II.” Journal of American Studies. vol. 32 no.1, April 1998, pp. 39-61.
Shimazu, Naoko. “Popular Representations of the Past: The Case of Postwar Japan.” Journal of Contemporary History vol. 38, no. 1, January 2003 pp. 101-116.
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